Snowy Owl

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Snowy Owl
Snowy Owl
Scientific classification
Kingdom:Animalia
Phylum:Chordata
Class:Aves
Order:Strigiformes
Family:Strigidae
Genus: Bubo
Species:B. scandiacus
Binomial name
Bubo scandiacus
(Linnaeus, 1758)

The Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) is a large owl of the typical owl family Strigidae. Until recently, it was regarded as the sole member of a distinct genus, as Nyctea scandiaca, but genetic analysis showed that it is very closely related to the horned owls in the genus Bubo. It is also known as the Arctic Owl, the Great White Owl, the Ookpik (Inuit), and the White Terror of the North.

This huge yellow-eyed white bird is unmistakable. The adult male is virtually pure white, but females and young birds have some dark scalloping; the young are heavily barred, and dark spotting may even predominate. Its thick plumage, heavily-feathered feet, and coloration render the Snowy Owl well-adapted for life north of the Arctic Circle.

The Snowy Owl is typically found in the northern circumpolar region, where it makes its summer home north of the 60th parallel. However, it is a particularly nomadic bird, and because population fluctuations in its prey species can force it to relocate, it has been known to breed at more southerly latitudes than this.

This species of owl nests on the ground, building a scrape on top of a mound or boulder. A site with good visibility, ready access to hunting areas, and a lack of snow is chosen. Gravel bars and abandoned eagle nests may be used. Breeding occurs in May, and depending on the amount of prey available, clutch sizes range from 5 to 14 eggs, which are laid singly, approximately every other day over the course of several days. Hatching takes place approximately five weeks after laying, and the pure white young are cared for by both parents.

Snowy Owls winter south through Canada and northernmost Eurasia, erupting further south in some years. They have been reported as far south as Texas, Georgia, the American Gulf states, southern Russia and northern China.

This powerful bird relies primarily on lemmings and other rodents for food, but at times when these prey are not available, or during the ptarmigan nesting period,they may switch to young ptarmigan. As opportunistic hunters, they feed on a wide variety of small mammals and birds, and will take advantage of larger prey, frequently following traplines to find food. Nesting birds require roughly two lemmings per day, and a family may eat up to 1500 lemmings before the young birds set off to fend for themselves.

Although Sibley's North American Bird Guide, (ISBN 1-873403-98-4) suggests that only starving birds hunt during the day, this is not correct. Healthy Snowy Owls, like Short-eared Owls, typically hunt during the day, though they may also hunt at night, and in the nightless Arctic summers, they can hardly avoid being diurnal.

The Snowy Owl is the official bird of Quebec.

See also

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